In the alley between Chicago Avenue and Hinman Avenue, at the space perpendicular to 825 Chicago Avenue, there lies a brewery, Sketchbook Brewing Company, newly opened on Friday, November 21, 2014. It’s just down the street to the trailblazing FEW Spirits, a local distillery open since June 2011. Neither business has a flashy street presence, their somewhat hidden aspect adding to the allure. One needs to know where to look to find them, and when you do, it is worth the trip.
Sketchbook describes itself as ‘Evanston’s community-supported nanobrewery’: initial funding for the brewery came from a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised more than $25,000 from 250 friends, relatives and interested strangers. The two men bringing life to Sketchbook are Shawn Decker, a multimedia artist and professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and Cesar Marron, a manager of software engineering for Teradata and one of three winners in the 2013 Sam Adams’ Longshot American Homebrew Contest.
Cesar and Shawn have thousands of hours of homebrewing experience and own hundreds of cookbooks and brewing guides between them. Longtime members of the Evanston Homebrew Club, the location they chose for Sketchbook even shares a wall with Brew Camp on Chicago Avenue. The men are tinkerers and “do it yourself” kind of guys, and in fact did much of the construction work on the brewery themselves. Together they develop recipes and tweak the ingredients to develop unique tastes that they and customers love. I tasted both ciders, Sparta and Tarta Sparta (cider with cherries) and Primo beer and loved them; they were delicious.
Currently Cesar and Shawn brew a new batch of beer about twice a week and offer six taps for tastings and fills ofgrowlers (64 ounce glass containers) and howlers (32 ounce glass containers). Each batch takes about 20 days: one day to brew, about 12 days to ferment and about seven days to mature, carbonate and settle. Once the container is filled and sealed, it should remain carbonated for two or three days. Sketchbook beers and ciders are organic; even the spent grain after a fermentation is donated to others as chicken feed and compost.
Sketchbook Brewing Company beer and ciders are currently served in a few Evanston restaurants including Boltwood, Firehouse Grill and Prairie Moon, with more locations in the works. The brewery is open Thursdays and Fridays from 4 pm to 8 pm, Saturdays 12 noon to 6 pm and Sundays from 12 noon to 4 pm. Stop in to say hello, sample the beers and take some home. Just look for the orange door.